“Well, when one has no one, nowhere else one can go! For every man must have somewhere to go. Since there are times when one absolutely must go somewhere!” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
On such a predicament as described by Marmeladov, a character from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, it is one’s tendency to reassess one’s options. Surely, one thinks, there must be somewhere one can go. But what if each option leads to a dead end? Others will probably continue to plan, hoping against hope that they would discover an exit. Others will probably surrender. Marmeladov did and he doused his helplessness in wine.
The psalmist behind Psalm 121 probably experienced the same anguish that Marmeladov felt. As customary among Jewish men, he was on a pilgrimage to the temple. We are not aware of his circumstance but it could be that he had nowhere else to go. He lifted his eyes to the hills of Jerusalem and perhaps he wondered if the city was that “somewhere” that will accept him and offer him aid. But the psalmist understood that help does not come from the hills but from God, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Trusting in God requires a certain surrender, an acceptance that one has nowhere else to go but to Him. Oftentimes, however, we thrash and flail as one drowning, a mad attempt to grab hold of something that might help us keep afloat. And even when we do resolve to trust, we’d imagine how God’s help would come through this or that, forgetting that His ways are higher than ours.
I think having nowhere else to go but to God is beautiful. Because it is in our inadequacy that His strength shines. Paul, after God spoke to him of how His power is made perfect in our weakness, concluded, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I am always reminded of God whenever I listen to Björk’s “Who Is It?” After all she sang, “Who is it — that never lets you down? Who is it — that gave you back your crown?”
I read Isaiah 49:14-26 and I could not help but be stirred by it. At times we are led to think that God has forgotten and deserted us, but He says, “I haven’t forgotten you. I have even written your name in my hands and wherever I look, I always see you.” He then goes on to assure us that He will contend with those who laid us to waste and that He will restore us and give us back our crowns.
So I will protect that which is most important. Though I do not have anything to show for it, no photographs, no video clips, no hallejuiah choruses, no magnificent feats, it does not matter. Because what is essential is not what I do for Him, but what He has done for me. And He has done a beautiful thing indeed.
His embrace: a fortress
it fuels me and places
a skeleton of trust
right beneath us
bone by bone
stone by stone
I woke up early this morning. I wanted to transfer all my belongings to my new place by noon. And I would’ve wanted to accomplish it without a trace, without a sound but that was beyond all possibilities. The “logistics”, however, went well. I also got to donate the clothes that I no longer use to Red Cross, which is good.
Still, my ears are saturated by that bittersweet song. I hear it despite the heavy rain, as if that song plays not from without but from within.
But “bittersweet” is a lovely oxymoron. I recall Naomi and Ruth on their way to Bethlehem. Naomi lost all that she had. To her that journey was a succumbing to her fate. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she said “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth, however, was looking forward to better things and she insisted on following her mother-in-law. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God,” she told her.
I feel like I am both Naomi and Ruth. It’s as if a fragment of me has died and I am drifting along the river of the inevitable and yet like Ruth, I know that something wonderful lies ahead. In the end, everything lies in God’s hands.
It is at those moments when we are completely powerless, when we are stuck in a predicament with no means of escape whatsoever, that God shows Himself to deliver us from our situation. After all, didn’t He promise that when we pass through the waters He will be with us; that when we pass through the rivers it will not sweep over us; and when we walk through the fire, we will not be burned and the flames will not set us ablaze? (Isaiah 43:2,4)
A classic example to this would be God’s deliverance for His people Israel. After setting out from Egypt towards their promised land, they suddenly found themselves cornered. Ahead of them was the vast expanse of the Red Sea. Behind them, was the furious Pharaoh and his chariots. There was nowhere to go. But God made a way for them in a manner they would never have conceived. He parted the Red Sea.
Whatever situation we may be in, God will always come to our aid. We just have to completely trust in Him. I am reminded of a line from The Count of Monte Cristo that goes, “…Until the day comes when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these words: wait and hope!”